Pesticides are chemicals used to protect crops from insects (insecticides), weeds and fungal attack (herbicides and fungicides) and rodents (rodenticides).
Pest problems and their management vary widely and depend on climate, soil types and many other conditions. The use of pesticides has enabled the production of a sufficient quantity of agricultural produce and raw materials of appropriate quality and acceptable cost.
Chemical pest control has, therefore, won a central place in modern agriculture, contributing to the dramatic increase in yields that has been achieved in recent decades for most major cereal, fruit and vegetable crops.
The farmer benefits from more efficient production, the food processor from a more even quality of raw material and the consumer from quality, low-cost products.
The use of pesticides has also allowed growers to produce crops in otherwise unsuitable locations, extend growing seasons, maintain product quality and extend shelf-life.
Why regulation is important
Most chemicals used as pesticides, however, are toxic and the major argument against their use is the health risk factor and the danger of environmental pollution.
These concerns, including the potential chronic effects, form the basis of all regulations that control the use of pesticides, the setting of safety standards and the monitoring of residues on foods.
Worldwide, pesticides undergo rigid testing procedures before they are accepted for registration by national authorities. The tests on pesticides must prove that the product, at the intended level of use:
- Has real value and will work as intended;
- Will have no negative side effects in humans, either during use on the farm or from residues that may remain in food;
- Will have no negative environmental effects.
As with the use of any potentially injurious chemical substance, the use of pesticides must take into consideration the balance of benefits versus the possible risk to human health or to the degradation of the quality of the environment.
Source: The European Food Information Council (www.eufic.org)